“Gods are metaphors transparent to transcendence. And my understanding of the mythological mode is that deities and even people are to be understood in this sense, as metaphors…” ― Joseph Campbell
What is a Metaphor?
A metaphor is a figure of speech that constructs an analogy between two or more things or ideas. When you understand the underlying premises are a metaphor, then it is a valid tool for comparison.
Many people understand that spiritual stories are a metaphor. It’s simply a way of describing something in terms someone can relate to. So, it is easy to see how the concept of God becomes mistaken as fact. If you don’t realize the story or the imaginary being is a metaphor, you miss the meaning. Then you derive the wrong conclusions.
God as a Metaphor Mistaken for a Fact
It’s a poetic understanding. It is to be understood in the same sense as Goethe’s words at the end of Faust: “Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis” (“Everything transitory is but a reference”). The reference is to that which transcends all speech, all vocabularies, and all images. I think of the more prosaic style of thinking about these references as theological rather than mythological. ― Joseph Campbell
The perfect metaphor is flexible. So, deists of all types use God as the answer or reason for everything. There may be other ways to explain the situation, but God is a simpler and more concise way.
The metaphor of God can hold any unknown. If something is good, God did it. If something is bad, God allowed it but it beyond our level of thinking to understand why. God as a metaphor is the perfect thing on which to base belief in other things for which there is no proof.
On the other hand, there is proof for the transcendent. Transcendence in the spiritual sense refers to an experience beyond the normal state of waking, dream and sleeping. It has nothing to do with feelings.
There are forms of meditation that enable one to reach a 4th state of consciousness with different physiological characteristics from waking, dreaming, or sleeping states. In this pure state of consciousness one literally experiences a transcendence of our Being.
They often describe the transcendence state as absolute silence significant for the absence of any internal dialogue. But, if you have never had this experience, you mistake the metaphorical reference as a description of real events or people. Thus, the metaphor is mistaken for a fact and you create a religion out this error.
A Reference for The Transcendent
God becomes the perfect blueprint on which to attach anything that is unknown or misunderstood. It is a thing of power beyond our understanding. So, we can seek its divine intervention in times of need. We can blame it for natural disasters. It’s a catchall entity. Unfortunately, most people do not see God as a metaphor but as a factual entity.
“In theology, the god is taken as a final term, a kind of supernatural fact. When the deity is not transparent, when he doesn’t open up like that to the transcendent, he doesn’t open up to the mystery that is the mystery of our own lives.”
― Joseph Campbell
The error which causes this misunderstanding stems from the absence of an experience with transcendence. If you don’t understand something but want others to think you do, then you can make critical errors of common sense. When others follow they believe the error as truth. They don’t understand the metaphor is a reference for the transcendent.
Mistaking the Metaphors for Facts
Most importantly, we hope this discussion provides food for thought. We want you to think about how your beliefs in a higher power shape your thoughts and values. Do you see your higher power a metaphor pointing the way to a more just and verdant behavior? Also, do you believe in God existing in the literal sense? Perhaps not in this world, but at existing on some plane of reality? Do you relate to the concept of a higher power in this way, or is it a philosophical matter?
Above all many people see a belief in the existence a particular God is not just a concept. Many people hold a belief in God as a central part of their identity. And, In fact, want everyone else to hold the same beliefs. The need to believe is so powerful that it propels them to act violently toward others. But, if belief equaled fact, then all Gods would be real. Think about that.
So, is it more probable that people are simply mistaking the metaphor as a fact? Or, is it really more likely that there are thousands of Gods? Is it more likely that the stories of and about Gods are just reference points for more transcendent concepts of reality? One thing is for certain, Approaching the Subject of a Higher Power is something that sparks deep emotional connections for many people. This is because they start from a place where metaphor is mistaken for a fact.
The transcendence is hard to explain to those who have not experienced it. So, using god as a metaphor is a way to help them grasp the concept. When someone who has not had the experience of the transcendence uses the god metaphor but doesn’t know it is a metaphor, then it is mistaken for a fact. This is one way we know the developers of the Abrahamic paradigm lacked an understanding of the concept.
For the transcendent to be understood one must experience it. Gods are metaphors that provide a focal point. It’s a way to express the attributes of creation and the human spirit in a story to make it more tangible.
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Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s Book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia